CHAPTER FIVE – Fact: Pirate Ships Are ALWAYS Infested With Rats

“Here she is. My pride and joy. My only one true love. Lily.” Gruel looked to where Pegleg Pete was pointing. He had led him through the dead of the night to the harbour. This was the ship he had heard Pete tell so many spellbinding stories about. It would be a massive understatement to say Gruel was very, very underwhelmed.

“Are you sure you are pointing to the right one?”

“Yeah, and before you say anything else, I admit she has seen better days.”

The pirate ship was certainly not what he was expecting. For starters, it was not a ship. Gruel was pretty sure a small boat with two oars either side could not be called a ship. The boat also had a tatty looking mainsail, a rudder and some ornate carvings that were scratched and chipped by years of sea salt and sea wind. It looked from the outside to only have enough room for two people.

“You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“What’s wrong, have you never seen a pirate ship before?”

“It’s tiny!”

“I prefer the word, cosy.”

“It’s infested with rats.”

“They’re all very friendly, if you don’t eat them, they won’t eat you.”

“It’s falling apart.”

“She’s got character and plenty of experience. You’ve heard my stories, this ship has taken on the might of the Spanish Fleet and sailed across the world and still, she lives.”

“How can you expect this heap of junk to take us on an adventure to find Captain Henry Morgan’s buried treasure. It probably won’t even last a day out on the open waters.”

Pegleg Pete grabbed him by his shirt and growled at the boy menacingly.

“You got a better option? Well, do ya, kid?”

Gruel said nothing.

“I thought not. Now stop wasting time and jump aboard. Five medallions say we’ll make it to the island where Captain Morgan buried his treasure in a week.”

~~~

They had been sailing for a week.

No sign of land, in any direction.

Gruel did not want to bring it up. Nor did he want to bring up the fact that, if they ever did manage to sail to the location of Captain Morgan’s pirate hoard, they would likely struggle to fit a fraction of it into the boat.

The journey so far had been very repetitive. They eat the same single meal every day, tuna from a can. They alternated rowing when there was no wind. Pegleg Pete told the same stories over and over again. The rats kept to themselves most of the time and were surprisingly welcoming for hungry rodents. Pegleg Pete called them all by name and made sure they were fed and watered, he treated them not as pets but as his crew. Gruel decided the sea air can do strange things to an ageing mind.

Whenever Gruel brought up the buried treasure or the map or Captain Morgan, Pegleg Pete would quickly change the subject. He wanted to keep as much information to himself as he could. Gruel got the impression he had been betrayed more times than he could count and being an illiterate pirate that number would have been unknown to him anyway. The only half useful thing he had managed to learn was that they would have to swim part of the way. He decided to keep back his own information – the fact that he could not swim.   

One morning while he was ignoring Pete’s storytelling, he stared at the water as it rippled off the edge of the boat. It was mesmerizing to watch. Every now and then he saw a fish or a piece of debris, or . . . what was that?

Gruel rubbed his eyes and looked closer. He could see the face of a girl in the water. She was drifting alongside the boat at the same speed and staring right back into his eyes. He must be seeing things. His mind playing tricks on him. Perhaps the sea air was affecting him as well.

He blinked, hard, and looked again. She was gone.

Suddenly a hand reached out from the water and grabbed his shirt. Before he could react, he was dragged under the water and began sinking fast. He struggled but could not get loose as his body went down and down. Then he felt something under his feet, something solid. He was standing on the bottom of the ocean and looking at the girl who dragged him there. A voice spoke inside his head.

“Traveler, what do you seek?”

He tried to reply but the dark, freezing water rushed into his mouth.

“Think, do not speak.”

“I don’t know what I seek.”

“Everyone is seeking something. Search your heart and you will find it.”

He thought and she was right, it bubbled to the surface with little thought.

“I seek adventure, I seek fortune, I seek a life worthy of folktales and legend.”

“Then join me, live with me down at the bottom of the sea. We can explore the unexplored world and discover what has never been found. Together we can rule the ocean floor and live forever.”

She reached out her hand. Gruel reached out his and touched her fingertips. The girl immediately flinched and backed away. A deafening scream filled his skull making him flail in pain.

“You’ve touched a cursed being. You are tainted by the old witch of the sea. Be gone.”

Just as he was about to run out of breath, Gruel was propelled backwards, up and up, towards the light of the surface. As he broke through, the sea spray hit his lungs and he swallowed a mixture of water and air. He flailed in the water and soon began to sink back down as the ocean filled his insides. As he blacked out, he felt something pressing against his stomach as he vomited up mouthfuls of water. Gasping for air, he opened his eyes and saw Pegleg Pete smiling back at him.

“Well done, kid. You survived your first encounter with a mermaid.”

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